Q&A with I Wish I Could Remember You Author L.J. Epps


What inspired you to write your book?

I had the idea for my book roaming around in my head for years. When I was growing up I would get different ideas in my head for a book or movie. One of the ideas I had was about a woman going through a messy divorce and losing her memory but only remembering the good years she shared with her husband. Since he claimed he had changed and she could only remember the good in him she had to decide if she was willing to give him a second chance.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I usually write down all of my ideas on paper and then just jump in and start writing the story. Once I’m well into the story –which would be a couple of chapters in I try to make an outline. That way I can have some sort of idea where the story will end up as I’m writing.

How did you come up with the title?

Funny but the working title was called Forgotten because I wanted to show that Emily has forgotten all of the bad things her husband has done to her and forgotten her new boyfriend, Robert because of her memory loss. But as time went on I wanted more of a sad romantic type title. That’s when I came up with I Wish I Could Remember You.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

My advice is if you love to write you should write as much as possible. Even if you never make any money from your writing, if your proud of it or if one person likes it that makes it all worth it.

What books/authors have influenced your writing?

One of my favorite authors is Nicholas Sparks. When I read his novels I always get emotionally involved. I’ve shed a few tears reading his novels, and that’s the kind of reaction I would like my novels to get when people read them. I love novels where I want to jump to the end to see what happens but I don’t because that would ruin the story for me.

What genre do you consider your books?

I write fiction novels. My first novel is Contemporary Women’s Romance. I also write Young Adult Fantasy and Dystopian.

Do you ever experience writers block?

Yes, I experience writers block sometimes, when that happens I listen to music. Sometimes music brings ideas flowing to my brain. I’m not sure why but it does.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Yes, I’ve written scenes that I’ve hated so I keep rewriting the scenes until I feel better about them. I have even gotten rid of entire scenes and started over from scratch.

Where did your love of writing come from?

When I was a child I day dreamed a lot and I had an active imagination. So I think it started when I was a child. I loved to dream up new worlds and new people and as I grew up I liked to write about them.

Do you write every single day?

I try to write every day. It’s not always easy because sometimes time is limited. Some days I can get a lot written and other days a little. But as long as I can write down a few words here and there each day I can get my writing goals completed.

Which writers inspire you?

I like Nicholas Sparks, Danielle Steel, J.K. Rowling, Susan Mallery, and Suzanne Collins.

What are you working on at the minute?

I’m finishing up a Young Adult Fantasy-Dystopian novel I’ve been working on. It should be released in a few months.

What is your favorite theme/genre to write about?

I have two favorites.   I love to write Contemporary Women’s Fiction and I also like to write Fantasy as well.

What is your latest book about?

My latest book is about a woman named Emily. She in her thirties and is going through a terrible divorce. Her husband, Steven is abusive and controlling and he doesn’t want the divorce. Emily is trying to move on with her life and during her separation she meets someone new named, Robert. Before the divorce can take place Emily is in a terrible accident that robs her of some of her short-term memories. She can only remember the good times with her soon to be ex-husband not the bad, and she cannot remember Robert at all. Both men profess their love for her and she has to decide who she wants to be with. Will she choose the man who claims he has changed even though she has heard about the terrible things he has done to her from her sister, but can’t remember? Or will she choose the man she’s been told she’s in love with now but can’t remember him at all.

You can get I Wish You Could Remember You on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and other retailers.

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An Interview with Richard Blanco and Dav Pilkey on Their Picture Book, One Today

At President Obama’s second Inauguration in 2013, Richard Blanco debuted his poem “One Today,” a tribute to America which examines the beauty and heartbreak that are a universal part of the human experience. Around the same time, author and illustrator Dav Pilkey was working on new books for his Captain Underpants and Ricky Ricotta series. In what may seem at first like an unlikely collaboration, the two have crafted a beautiful picture book version of this unforgettable poem. The combination of Blanco’s poignant language with the touching visual world that Pilkey’s illustrations have created, make One Today a book that belongs on every child’s shelf. After reading it with my daughter, I just had to know more about the story behind how these two artists came to collaborate, what each hopes readers will take away from the book, and what we might see from them in the future.

How did you two end up working together? It is quite a unique pairing, a poet and a children’s author and illustrator.

Dav Pilkey: It was all our editor, Susan Rich’s idea. She loved Richard’s poem, and believed I would be a good fit as an illustrator. Susan and I had both worked together at Orchard Books in the early 1990’s when we were both starting our careers, and she remembered the painterly picture books I did back then (ie. The PaperboyGod Bless the Gargoyles, When Cats Dream).

Richard Blanco: Susan Rich shared The Paperboy with me and I immediately fell in love with Dav’s work—so rich, lush, evocative. I knew in an instant he was the right artist for the poem.

I was lucky enough to be among the million people standing on the National Mall to hear the poem’s debut, and it was a truly amazing day. Can you tell us how this went from a poem to a picture book?

DP: Susan acquired the poem from Richard, and approached my agent, Amy Berkower. Amy agreed that Richard’s words and my paintings seemed like a good fit.

I was a huge fan of this poem, but initially I felt I might not be the right person to illustrate these words which were so deeply personal to Richard.  I felt like my background (basically a “Brady Bunch” kid from the Midwest) was too different from Richard’s background, and that my vision might not mesh well with Richard’s vision.

 I spent several weeks reading and re-reading Richard’s other poetry, and it was when I came across a poem he wrote about his grandmother that I began to believe that, perhaps Richard and I might be a good match after all. Even though our childhoods were very different, I think we both grew up feeling like misfits. And for some reason, this seemed like the key to creating images for this poem: America is filled with multitudes of people who may seem very different from one another, but there are still things that make us all the same. That idea made me want to paint this book.

RB: In the poem that Dav mentions about my grandmother, she ridicules me for loving my cat because that wasn’t manly. And so, I love that Dav “gave me” a cat that follows me throughout the entire book! Indeed, Dav and I share a strong connection as “misfits” who turned to the arts as a way of making our way through life and the navigating our worlds. The longing to belong is apparent in our respective work, including the illustrations and the poem, “One Today,” which at its heart is about inviting all of us—the whole nation—to have a place at the table—to understand that each of us is an important part of the collective that is our country.

What was it like to try to bring a visual element to the poem, especially one that was initially read on such a large scale?

DP: I felt both intimidated and unnecessary. Intimidated because of the historical significance of the poem, and unnecessary because Richard’s poem was perfect just the way it was. It didn’t need illustrations, and I knew that adding my paintings to Richard’s words would make his poem into something different than he had intended. Fortunately, Richard was OK with that. It is my hope that the picture book One Today, even though it has become something new, still embodies the same message of hope and humanity that it did when it was first read in 2013.

RB: Dav was very respectful of the poem, but I was more than “OK” with his illustrations—I was ecstatic! They added dimensions to the poem that my words could not do on their own.  The poem came alive in a different way. And that’s truly what collaboration is all about:  creating something that stands stronger together.

While the text speaks of everyone, of the universal elements of life, the illustrations appear to follow a few people in the course of their day. What do you hope kids and their parents are able to take away from the book?

DP: I hope that children will see the larger picture Richard has painted with his words. One Today isn’t just about America—it’s about humanity.

RB: Indeed, although the poem was written in celebration of our nation, I think it also reaches beyond the occasion. That’s the power of poetry—and all the arts, really, which connects us to our common shared humanity—no matter the color of our skin, what language we speak, what gender we are, or what culture we are rooted in.

You both have been open about the challenges you’ve faced. What would you like to say to those kids who maybe feel like they don’t fit in?

DP: I always tell kids what my mom used to say to me when I was a kid—especially on days when my challenges seemed overwhelming. She used to say, “everything happens for a reason.  Maybe something GOOD will come out of all of this”. I think her constant reminders to look for the good in ALL situations helped to shape the life I have today.

 RB: I would say to try and look at it as blessing. If you don’t fit in, that usually means there’s something truly unique, different, special about you. Just be patient…it will blossom in time and everything will make sense. What makes you odd today will someday be exactly what makes you great.

Dav, the style in One Today seems to deviate from your other popular books, namely Captain Underpants; was it tough for you to step out of that mind set? Do you see more books like this, or The Paperboy,  in your future?

DP: I never intended to stop doing picture books. I hope there will be many more painterly picture books in my future. I’m so grateful to Richard and Susan Rich for giving me this opportunity, not just to paint again, but to be reminded of what I loved so much about this genre.

In the ideal world, who else would you want to collaborate with? Any dream books you want to illustrate? Or visual artists you want to see interpret your writing? 

DP: In the “ideal world” and if we could turn back time, I would love to collaborate with Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

Do either of you have something new in the works that we can look forward to?

DP: Next year, I have a new graphic novel series debuting. It’s called Dog Man, about a police officer who has the head of a dog and the body of a human. He’s got all the raw materials to be a great cop, but he must constantly fight against his canine nature in order to be a better man.

RB: I’m working on another collaboration with a photographer on the theme of borders—physical, imaginary, cultural, psychological, virtual borders. Or—looking at it another way—pulling about the narratives and fictions about borders and thinking about how the world is becoming borderless.

When you are not writing, doing readings, or illustrating, what do you read just for fun? 

DP: I enjoy reading graphic novels, children’s books and autobiographies. I just finished Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, and Richard Blanco’s autobiography, The Prince of Los Cocuyos. Both books are fantastic, beautiful, and inspiring.  If you’re looking for something hilarious, I highly recommend Kirk Scrogg’s new series, Snoop Troop.

RB: I love taking long walks with my dog, Joey. Or lounging around with my cat, Sammy! But I love reading, too, especially books about science and psychology.  I find they inspire my poetry in unique ways.

One Today is on bookshelves now.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 5, 2016.

Q&A With Stephen Leather, Author of New York Night: The 7th Jack Nightingale Supernatural Thriller

9780956620378_p0_v1_s192x300Thanks to the team at BookBear I am happy to share this Q&A with Stephen Leather, author of the long running Jack Nightingale series. In this new addition to the series teenagers are being possessed but priests and psychiatrists can’t help. Jack Nightingale is called in to investigate, and finds his own soul is on the line.

What inspired you to write the Jack Nightingale series?

I always loved the Black Magic books of Dennis Wheatley when I was a kid and I’m a huge fan of the Constantine character in the Hellblazer comics (graphic novels as they prefer to be called these days). And I just love supernatural films, especially haunted houses and things that go bump in the night. With the Nightingale series I wanted to explore the supernatural world but with a hero who is very much grounded in reality. The first three books – Nightfall, Midnight and Nightmare – really explain his backstory, how he became the man he is. The next two – Nightshade and Lastnight – explain why he had to leave the UK and the subsequent books will be set mainly in the United States, hence San Francisco Night and New York Night.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I try not to have a style. Like most journalists-turned-writers I try to tell my stories simply with uncluttered prose. If I find myself over-writing I tend to hit the delete key and start again. I try to write my books as if I was writing for a newspaper, where it’s the information that is being conveyed that’s important, not the style in which it’s written. I do like to write fast-paced books, with lots of dialogue and not too much descriptions. For me, the story is everything.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read. Read a lot. Read good books and bad books and learn from them both. Write every day if you can. I think though that real writers don’t need advice, not about writing. Real writers will be constantly reading because they love books. And they will be constantly writing because they love to write. You need to find your own voice, you need to write the books that you want to write, or that you feel you have to write, and I don’t believe anyone else should be telling you what sort of books to write or how to write them. I don’t think real writers need advice because real writers are self-motivated to improve their craft. They know what needs to be done! Self-publishing is a different matter, there you do need advice because you have to take care of covers, blurbs, marketing and so on. Google self-publishing guru Joe Konrath and read everything he has to say about self-publishing and you won’t go far wrong!

What books/authors have influenced your writing?

I read pretty much everything by Jack Higgins and Len Deighton before I started
writing, but I think I modeled my writing most on Gerald Seymour, who was also a journalist before becoming a thriller writer.  I loved all John Le Carre’s books back then, but always felt intimidated by his wonderful prose. I would finish a Le Carre book and feel that I could never write anything as good as that!  At least with Gerald Seymour I would think that I had just read a wonderful novel and that one day I might be able to produce something almost as good!  In terms of influencing my self-publishing, I have been inspired by self-publishing guru Jake Konrath.

What genre do you consider your book(s)?

The books published by Hodder and Stoughton are thrillers, pure and simple. The Jack Nightingale series – which Hodder and Stoughton originally published but which I now publish myself – are supernatural thrillers, though they sometimes get labelled as occult thrillers, which is fine.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

You know, I don’t think there is such a thing, not if you mean a writer who simply cannot write. Like all writers I sometimes have trouble with a storyline or a section I’m writing, but if that happens I simply switch to writing something else, either a different part of the same work or even a separate piece. I always have half a dozen or so short stories in mind so if a book starts to give me problems I might take a few days off and write one of those instead. But as I’m writing a book I usually have several sections already planned out so blocking doesn’t become an issue. My advice to anyone who does feel that they are blocked is to start trying to write something else, anything, just to start the words flowing again!

What was the hardest part of writing this book?  1221_leather-bg
Actually New York Night was an easy book to write, partly because Nightingale is such a great character to work with and partly because I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. It took about two months, from start to finish, and at no point did I hit any real problems. The ending didn’t come to me until the last week or so and I think that was probably the hardest part, coming up with a satisfying ending.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I just love the Jack Nightingale character. When Hodder and Stoughton decided they didn’t want to continue to publish the series, there was no question that the books would stop. Jack just wouldn’t allow it. I love his sarcasm, his slight air of pessimism, and the fact that he just takes whatever life throws at him. He’s smart and thinks on his feet, yet because the supernatural world is so alien to him it’s constantly catching him off-balance. Having the books set in the United States is fun, because he’s always a fish out of water. It gives me the chance to explore different cities, too, which I enjoy enormously. This one was good fun because I know New York well, it’s one of my favourite cities. The next one will be set in Miami which is also a fun city.

Do you write every single day?

I try to. When I’m finishing a book I’m usually so inspired 200px-Stephen_Leather_Profile-1that I write ten or twelve hours a day, producing maybe 3,000 or 4,000 words. But generally I try to write at least 1,000 words a day and am happier if I manage 1,500. A thousand words a day is a good target, assuming the odd day off that’s 350,000 words a year!  Obviously there are days when you simply don’t have the time to write but if I’m not at the keyboard for a few days I definitely suffer withdrawal symptoms. Writer’s write, that’s all there is to it. I’ve heard some writers complain that producing their latest book was like pulling teeth, with me it’s never like that. I love to write, it’s what I do.

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Thanks again BookBear!


Interview with David Litwack

Author David Litwack has published Along the Watchtower in June, 2013 and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky in May, 2014. The Children of Darkness, the first of the Seekers series, a dystopian trilogy, was published in June, 2015. It’s sequel, The Stuff of Stars, came out in November, 2015.


Tell me a little about your book…
The seed of an idea is a curious thing. I went for a walk along one of my favorite places on Cape Cod. On one side was Vineyard Sound, with Martha’s Vineyard rising from the fog, and on the other a series of inlets of increasing size. The first  is called Little Pond and the next Great Pond. For some reason, I imagined young people growing up in Little Pond and envying those of Great Pond, wanting to find more from life than they had in their small village. From there, the story expanded. What if their limitation was not their small village, but a repressive authority that limited their potential to think and grow?

At the same time as I was developing this plot, the real world was changing. Increasingly, I saw on the news stories of oppression and rigid limits placed on freedom of thought: modifying school curriculum to restrict the sciences; rewriting history; destroying evidence from the past; restrictions on dress and diet; banning music and the arts; and severe punishments like stoning for daring to think differently.

Over time (several years), all these thoughts evolved in the Seekers dystopian trilogy.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

The urge to write first struck me at age sixteen when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the wild night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by the northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. The next day, I had a column published under my byline, and I was hooked.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Of course, everything I write has some basis in my own life. But fiction is less about recording reality than stitching together bits and pieces of things you’ve experienced and combining them with your craft to make a story—one that will hopefully let the reader add their own life experiences to it and be moved in some way. I’m not one to think a writer must only write about what they know (how else do you get alternate worlds?). But you have to write about things you’ve felt.

Out of all the characters in your book, who is your favorite to write? 

I used to say that my favorite was Kailani from The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. She’s so mysterious, but at the same time wise, naïve and vulnerable. Now that I’m nearly done with the Seekers series, I think I’d say Orah. She smart and passionate in her beliefs, and a natural leader, yet she always doubts herself and questions her decisions—a trait that would be a good thing in some of our real world leaders.

Is your book part of a series, and if so, how many will there be?

The Children of Darkness is Book one of the Seekers dystopian trilogy. The second book, The Stuff of Stars, has just published.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the finale of the Seekers series, to be titled The Light of Reason. If all goes as planned, it will come out in November 2016.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Writing a novel may be one of the hardest things you can do, so it’s all challenging. But nothing is harder than writing the first draft. I don’t yet know the characters that well and, while I have a general sense of where the story is heading, I can take a wrong turn at any point and have to redo months of work. When I hit that point where I’m terrified the story has gone off the rails, I take a break for a few days. Almost always, it’s not as bad as I feared, and I can fix the problem with a modest bit of work.

Once I’m beyond the first draft, the rest becomes just hard work. I do lots of revisions, but I find it easier to fix the story than to write it from scratch.

There’s a reason why Hemingway once said: “Write drunk, edit sober!”

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

To each and every reader, we’re partners in the story. I use my craft, and you use your imagination to flesh out your own unique version of the story. If I’ve caused you to re-experience some of the most intense moments of your life, then I’ve succeeded as an author.

To quote Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Do you plot your books completely before hand or do you let your imagination flow whilst in the writing process?

I usually conceive of a new book as a series of images and scenes, daydreaming about them while I finish work on the prior novel. I maintain a notes file for the new novel and do a rough draft of these scenes—a  very rough draft, what some people call “scaffolding” or “riff writing” like improvisation in jazz. The file can get pretty chaotic. Every now and then I make a feeble attempt to organize it (when I’m finishing up a novel, I try to avoid distractions and stay focused on getting it out to the publisher). By the time I’m ready to start the new novel, I usually have about 20,000 words of loosely connected prose—20-25% of the eventual novel but probably 80% of its essence. I take a couple of months to read, edit and organize that file into a dense plot outline. Then I start a new file from scratch, cutting and pasting prose as appropriate.

It’s a messy process in the early going, but unlike those who start with a more organized outline, I need that amount of writing to get to know the characters and live in the story.

How long did it take to get from the ideas stage of the Seekers series, to the publication of all three books?

The Seeker series started out as a standalone novel called There Comes a Prophet. The initial idea came to me about eight years ago, and it was published in 2011. After producing two other novels, I decided at the urging of readers to go back and turn this standalone dystopian story into a trilogy. Prophet became The Children of Darkness(with a changed title, cover and publisher) and I’ve just published the second book, The Stuff of Stars. I’m hard at work on the third and final offering, to be called The Light of Reason.

Did you suffer from writer’s block at any stage? How did you overcome it?

I sometimes think writer’s block is just another way of saying that writing a novel is really hard. I try to keep writing, even if I think it’s going poorly. Then I see how it looks the next day. I remind myself that I can always revise or just throw it away. Nothing’s worse than staring at a blank page.

Long walks are another good way to get the creative juices going. Whatever the case, I try to avoid just sitting there and staring at the screen. Write, read or go for a walk.

How did you come up with the name(s) for your lead character(s)?

Names matter, especially for a SciFi/Fantasy writer building new worlds. The names need to be consistent and reflect that culture. For the Seekers trilogy, where the people have been forcibly returned to something like our 15th century, I found the passenger manifest for the Mayflower, and borrowed names, mixing up first and last names to get ones like Nathaniel Rush or Thomas Bradford. All except for Orah. I wanted her to be different, a rebellious throwback to an earlier time. So rather than picking from the Anglo-Saxon, I chose a name with Hebrew roots. As an added subtlety, the name Orah means light.


Meet Jill Amy Rosenblatt, Author of “The Fixer: The Naked Man”

Jill Amy Rosenblatt, the author to two previous novels, Project Jennifer and For Better or Worseis back with a new novella series, The Fixer: The Naked Man. You can pick up any of her books now!

Can you share the inspiration for The Fixer Series? What was the research process like for getting into the woJill webrld of theft and deceit?

The Fixer came at the e
nd of a very bad bout of writer’s block that had been a problem for quite a while. After a sleepless night, I had an idea of a young woman in a cat and mouse game with a very powerful man. She needed something from him (I didn’t quite know what) and was trying to negotiate to get it. I thought about who this young woman wa
s and what she might do for a living that this was happening. I had heard of the term “fixer” and I investigated a little more. Since there are already TV shows that deal with this profession, I decided to go with an origin series, to show how Katerina wound up in this line of work.

I love research! I enjoy digging in and looking up everything down to the last detail. The funny thing about research is the more you look up, the more ideas and questions it raises. So I wind up having a lot of material to pick and choose from. I use books, magazines, and the internet but I also have been so lucky to have found some wonderful individuals who are willing to talk to me and answer my questions.

What’s the deal with MJM, Katerina’s mysterious new employer?Front Cover THE FIXER-THE NAKED MAN-1

I would love to tell you but I don’t want to spoil the surprise!! There will be a lot more revealed about MJM in future books so please be patient and all will be revealed.

Right now is there a plan for how long the series will be?

I am planning for roughly 10-12 books in the series but I’m working pretty loosely to allow flexibility for that to change.

Maybe it’s just me, but I felt sparks between Katerina and Alexander Winter. Potential love triangle? Friends with benefits? Am I completely off track?

You are exactly on track! There will be much more to come with Katerina and Alexander Winter. Stay tuned for more developments.

What can readers expect for the second book?

More of everything! The Killing Kind will have more assignments, more danger, and more mysterious men. The plotlines left open in The Naked Man will continue. Katerina’s situation will become more desperate and that will require her to take more risks.

I saw on your website that your mom is your editor. What is that process like, working with your mother professionally?

It works really well. My mom is amazing. She is incredibly smart and talented. Writers are always too close to their work. It’s not always possible to be 100% objective. When Judith edits, she sees the work objectively, makes suggestions, and will always ask the tough questions and tell me the truth.

I know we’re talking about The Fixer, but give new fans the basics of your other books, For Better or Worse and Project Jennifer.

Project Jennifer was my first book. It’s a chick lit romantic comedy that asks the question, “If you had a different name, would you have a different life?” Joan Benjamin loses her job, fiancé, and apartment, all in one week, all because of women named Jennifer. Convinced that Jennifers have all the style, charm, and grace, when Joan finds out she was almost named Jennifer, she decides the Universe made a mistake. Even if she can’t change her name, she’s going to change her life.

For Better of Worse was my second book. It’s women’s fiction, set in New York City. It’s the story of three friends, Elizabeth, Karen, and Emily and their relationships. I wanted to explore power structures. In every relationship, does one partner always have the upper hand? Over a one year period, I explore how the lives and relationships of these women change, with their men and with each other. I mixed humor, drama, and of course, romance.

For all the unpublished authors out there who are sitting on ideas for books, what tips would you give them? You earned your Masters in Literature and Creative Writing from Burlington College in Vermont, is this a path you would recommend for others?

My first tip would be to read as much as possible. Reading makes you a better writer. Then, write as much as you can. It’s tough to write every day because of commitments and schedules but do the best you can. Some days I would only write a paragraph because it was all I had time for, but I did it. Most important, don’t give up. If you love writing, pursue, practice, and persist!

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the path of a Masters degree. The Burlington College Masters program was great for me because it was an Individualized Program, so I had flexibility to help design and choose what I studied. I improved my grammar and spent time working on my essay skills. The Masters degree isn’t the only path and it’s not a fit for everyone.

What would be Katerina Mills Starbucks order? Her Netflix binge show?

Katerina is addicted to hot vanilla lattes with whole milk. That’s one thing she shares in common with the author. 🙂

I think her Netflix binge show would be a mix. A little West Wing for the quick dialogue, mixed with some classic romance like Moonlighting. Great question. I had to think about that!

bookbear badge-1Thanks to BookBear for bringing this tour our way! Check out their website or twitter feed to find more books, authors, interviews, and awesome content.

Hollywood Veteran, Writer, and Professor Trai Cartwright Talks Craft and Career

by Lindsey Lewis Smithson

originally posted on Castle Rock Writers

Colorado based writer Trai Cartwright has taught, produced, and learned her craft from nearly every aspect possible. She started her career at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, spent time working for Leonardo DiCaprio, founded a youth writing camp, and happened to work in Hollywood for nearly 20 years.  The Castle Rock Writers are proud, once again, to be able to bring Trai, her talents and her enthusiasm, to the Annual Conference at the PACE Center in Parker on November 7th.

Can you give us a little bit on your professional background?

I am a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, I was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. I currently teach creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor. www.craftwrite.com.

Education seems to be an important part of your message, what educational paths do you think are most beneficial for writers?

All educational paths are beneficial to writers. From classes and conferences to working with a writers’ group, to engaging the services of an editor, to reading reading reading, and then writing writing writing some more – all of this is going to elevate not only your skills, but raise your confidence and help you deliver work that you can be proud of.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s the most fun work there is.

Creatively you write across multiple genres, what advice do you have for writers who want to jump into a new genre?

My advice for jumping genres (or mediums, i.e., fiction to non-fiction or screenwriting) is to study your new element. Audiences have definite expectations, so it’s important to have a sense of what those expectations are so that you might serve—or bend them.  There used to be a marketing mandate that said a writer could only write in one genre/medium, as audiences would “get confused” if a different story emerged. The truth is, readers are by nature voracious and loyal and if they love your voice and trust your taste as a storyteller, they will follow you anywhere.

You mention genre and sub-genre when talking about finding power in your writing, how does writing, say Young Adult novels, play into this? Isn’t writing for teenagers the same as writing for adults?

This question leads me right to theme in writing. Theme works in stories in a number of ways, beginning at the general genre level (action = good vs. evil), and then at the subgenre level in even more specific ways (coming of age = rebelling against society until one finally takes one’s place in society), and so on.

So while teens can absolutely read at the level adults do and often there’s cross-pollination between these demographics, chances are stories geared toward teens, for example, are focused on issues that concern them, like rebellion, like first love, like identity.

The same can be said for the differences between, say, a Political Thriller and a Family Drama.  Political thrillers are, at their thematic heart, deeply concerned with politics and institutional corruption. Family dramas tend to peer into the history of the betrayals within that family. Oh wait, turns out Political Thrillers and Family Dramas have a lot in common!

This year you are presenting on genre, voice and tone as three key craft elements. If you could pick one area that many writers seem to overlook which would it be? How can aspiring writers avoid some of those common pitfalls?

Genre, voice and tone are all integral to the machinery. Genre tells you what kind of voice and tone is required. Voice informs your tone. Tone helps you make choices about your genre and voice. The lecture I’m presenting is about building the right voice for your book – it doesn’t happen accidentally. The best books feel like there’s an intelligent design powering them, and there is – a writer who knew the themes of her book well enough to be able to design all the elements to serve that theme. What could be more exciting than writing your book on the most subtextual, cellular level?

How can writers make the most of their conference experience?

Do not rest. Rest is for Sunday. Miss nothing, go to everything. Talk. Rumor has it that writers are painfully shy, insular creatures who cringe at human contact. Conferences are filled with your people, people who get it and get how hard this is. Be brave and reach out both to agents and editors and teachers, but to your fellow conference-goers, too. They could use the boost, and you’re gonna make a new ally.

What are you reading right now?

Mostly I read client manuscripts. Just finished a divine memoir about a couple who adopted two kids from Ethiopia, and a screenplay military thriller based on an isolated island base. I love this kind of reading – all the passion and hopes of writers putting it out there, being willing to share, and then to do the work to get their work to a publishing level. I’ve been in development for 25 years, and I absolutely adore the process, even if it means I don’t have time for the new Lev Grossman book.

You also do a lot of work with young writers through the Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camp. How did you come to starting this group? Is there something you see in young writers that you don’t in adult writers?

I was a writer as a kid, as many of us were. I wrote seven books by the time I was 15 when I shifted my attention to theater. There was zero support for a weirdo like me. Explorati Teens is exactly the program I wish I’d had when I was that age. Members of our tribe, getting together to talk about the stuff that no one else gets or is interested in, a real opportunity to celebrate and affirm who we are, and to dig into the craft of our work.  Teens are my heart, and it’s my honor to bring Explorati Teens back to Denver for the 8th summer in 2016.

At the moment you have a campaign on Indiegogo.com for the Colorado Script Exchange. What are the aims of the Script Exchange?

Without screenplay agents in Colorado or any organized way to pass scripts around, Colorado writers are left without any means of showing their work. The goal of the Colorado Script Exchange is to create a platform where writers can post info about their work and media-makers can “shop” for their future projects. In short, we’re building our own screenwriting marketplace in the hopes of starting up meaningful conversations between writers and makers – and maybe even spark a production or two.

In what little free time you seem to have you also helped found the Colorado Smart Film Investment Coalition. What draws you to these community based organizations?

Hollywood is community based, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Your network is your lifeblood, the people who support your career and even create opportunities for you. I worked with wonderful people there, and they taught me to always reach out a hand and help others. To my mind, the only way to thrive in a tricky business like the publishing world or the film industry is to do it together.  Be generous or be alone.

Beyond writing and community work you also offer freelance writing, editing and consulting services. Can all writers benefit from working with an editor? What are the perks to freelancing that other writing careers don’t offer? If someone wanted to get into freelance writing and editing do you have any tips?

All writers can benefit from working with an editor – but it’s important they are the right editor. Do your homework. Make sure there’s a personal connection there. Ask for testimonies if they aren’t readily supplied. The right editor can cut drafts (and drafts) out of the development process and make you understand your own writing better.

As for freelancing, well, isn’t for everyone. But for someone like me who is extremely self-motivated and, shall we say, has a problem with authority figures, it’s terrific. I like my boss. I love my “clients” whether they are in a classroom or on the other end of a manuscript. This job is the best I’ve ever had, and I fight every day to do it well and to keep it.

As for freelancing, well, isn’t for everyone. But for someone like me who is extremely self-motivated and, shall we say, has a problem with authority figures, it’s terrific. I like my boss. I love my “clients” whether they are in a classroom or on the other end of a manuscript. This job is the best I’ve ever had, and I fight every day to do it well and to keep it.

Tips to go freelance? You have to be seriously passionate about this space or you won’t have the energy to sustain a business.  You also have to be realistic about whether you can live with the financial ups and downs, and whether you have the temerity to constantly be looking for work. That part grinds. Try doing it part time and see if it’s a good fit. You’ll also be able to build your network during this trial period. Then go for it!  We need all the great editors and writers we can get!